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Year 1 Semester 1 - Review

js6426

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Well the first semester is at an end, all that remains is 4 finals over the next 2 weeks (no class during that time).  I said that I would do a summary type post to finish, including areas that I think I have grown in, areas that are most desperately in need of improvement (comparatively), and then goals for the break.

 

I have really enjoyed this semester and feel like I have learned so much.  I don't think personal improvement is always that obvious, but I have been told by the teachers that we have all improved a ton.  I suppose they are bound to say that, but I have been told the same thing by others so that's encouraging!  Obviously that is relatively speaking.  I think my greatest improvement so far has been in my reading/writing, which is also my favourite aspect of learning the language.  My speaking has improved too, and I think the biggest thing here is being aware of my mistakes, and they are MANY!  I am constantly struggling to speak Chinese at home, but it's a real battle to change the language I speak to my wife.  However, I know that the only way to get better is to do it more, and the reality is we just don't speak much in class.  I also try and speak only Chinese with my classmates, which actually isn't hard because I don't speak Thai/Korean/Russian and they don't speak much English, and our teacher said one big source of improvement further on is that students speak Chinese all the time.  I have also improved in my listening, but again I am very aware of my shortcomings, and my biggest one right now is that I really, really have a hard time distinguishing tones I hear.  I usually try and rely on knowing the word and the context, but of course there are cases in which that just won't cut it (especially when you have to mark the tones above pinyin from audio you hear)!  We covered a listening exercise in our book that I had actually done previously last March, when I first started studying the short course.  All I remembered about it was having no idea what was going on, but this time it was easy.  That's how I am gauging my improvement! 

 

Areas that need improving - I think it goes without saying that there is a lot of improvement needed in every discipline.  However, things that need the most immediate attention are speaking and listening.  As for how I plan on seeing that improvement, I think the main way is to just continue what I have been doing.  I am hoping that time will be key here.  Additional things I want to make an effort to do are really hammering myself on speaking Chinese at home, and doing more listening practice, especially over the break.  I am going to try and do more general listening by watching more Chinese material.  I have access to plenty of Chinese movies on Youtube, and of course there's the TV.  I would also like to do some more intensive listening.  I have a book that I want to try and work through over the break, and I am going to try and find the CD and do all the listening exercises to go with it.

 

Goals for the break - I have a book called 'Short-Term Spoken Chinese', which is the elementary level, and I actually covered the previous book in the short course before starting the degree.  I am going to work through this one over the break.  If I don't finish the whole book then that's ok, I just want to try and do some active studying regularly.  I also want to watch at least two Chinese movies a week, which I know isn't a lot, but it's better than nothing!  Other than that I would like to keep active in speaking and listening when I am out and about.  For reading and writing I have the book that I am studying, I also want to go back and consolidate any new vocab that I have missed over this semester, including how to write it all.  The finally adding new characters/vocab to my writing deck on Anki and continuing to do that regularly. 

 

I will write another post after my exams on how they went, and perhaps a post mid-break regarding how I am getting on with my goals.  It seems that I can upload pictures again, so I will add some random pictures to this post!  Edit - Two pictures uploaded successfully, the rest failed :-(

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Two movies sounds a lot per week if you ask me, only because sources of good quality mainland films always seem to dry up for me. Looking forward to hearing which ones you watched and what you thought of them

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For oral practice I recommend iTalki. You can get down to about $5-$6 an hour with a community tutor (though you sometimes need to sign up with a package). I use a software that saves all of my Skype conversations automatically and splits the two people into two tracks for you, allowing you to easily export it into something like Audacity and remove yourself (or your teacher) and any unnecessary pauses. This allows you to save your session for review.

 

 

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Tomsima - I didn't think about that, perhaps I will do one a week, or one movie and one episode from a show or something!

 

Happy_hyaena - thank you for the suggestion!  To be honest I don't think I want to pay for more when I am already paying for a degree, especially being as I can just talk to Chinese people.  Of course this won't be as effective as a tutor as I won't be told where my mistakes are, but I suppose it will be genuine, and I can always use my dictaphone to record conversations on the sly!  I'm also looking forward to not having teaching over the break and being able to do my own thing for a bit!

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Actually, I'm currently mostly relying on attending language cafés once or twice a week for oral language practice myself so I'm not really following my own advice. But if I had the time to focus solely on studying Chinese "full-time" I would actually rather pay $5-$10 for one 1 hour lesson a day five times a week than paying $2000 (again) for one semester of 20 hours/week. For 16 weeks that comes out to $2000/(16*20 h) = $6.25/h. That's $6.25 for a shared lesson with like 10+ other students, great for your listening skills but otherwise a little inefficient as you're not really getting that one-on-one time with the teacher in the same way. I really like studying by myself as well so I would spend the other time self-studying, going through notes and tips from the tutor, etc before doing other stuff like watching a movie/tv-series or reading a book. 

 

EDIT: Actually I paid about $1460 for my semester, so that's $4.5 an hour.

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Each to their own!  The numbers you used aren't actually right, which is my fault if I posted incorrect prices earlier!  I pay $2800 for the year, which is around 37 weeks at 20 hours/week, so much closer to $1.50 an hour.  I guess you would also have to factor in visa costs, which would definitely work out cheaper for me on a student visa, than trying to get multiple short tourist visas as I wouldn't be able to get a student visa if I was here and using an online tutor.  Then flights into and out of China every time a visa needed to be renewed.  If I was outside of China then a tutor would be a much more attractive option, but being here I think the degree makes more sense financially for sure, the rest just depends on which style of learning you prefer I'm sure!  I will definitely be going over stuff we have studied so far, movies/shows are really just to get increase my listening input, as this is where I struggle the most!

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Ah, I screwed up with the conversion above. I paid about $1460 for one semester (which was maybe closer to 17-18 weeks), and it would be pretty much $2900 for a whole year so not much different from what your degree costs. Btw $2800/(37*20 h) = ~$3.8/h. The degree does sound a lot better than constantly paying for semesters of "Chinese studies".

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Hah, you're right, I must have hit the wrong button on my calculator!  Yeah our first semester is 17 weeks with 2 weeks of final exams, and then we have 2 more semesters, but it's a bit odd as the second semester ends with finals, and then no break before we start a shorter 3rd semester.  Apparently there are usually just 2 semesters for many universities, but we have an extra one.  I still haven't decided if I'm happy about that or not!

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2 hours ago, js6426 said:

especially being as I can just talk to Chinese people. 

 

It is interesting that you bring up this point. I have just been discussing learning Chinese with my Cantonese colleagues. I gave an example of sometimes confusing the order of words in a sentence.....but they didn't give me an answer....and just carried on the conversation! Rather frustrating.

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1 hour ago, happy_hyaena said:

Actually, I'm currently mostly relying on attending language cafés once or twice a week for oral language practice myself

 

How do you make this work successfully? Like what happens if you run out of things to talk about?

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8 minutes ago, Flickserve said:

 

It is interesting that you bring up this point. I have just been discussing learning Chinese with my Cantonese colleagues. I gave an example of sometimes confusing the order of words in a sentence.....but they didn't give me an answer....and just carried on the conversation! Rather frustrating.

 

That is frustrating!  I often find myself wishing that people would correct me when I say something wrong, but then I imagine if the shoe was on the other foot - I have spoken to many people who are learning English and I don't correct them if they make mistakes, probably because I understand what they are saying, and don't want to offend them.  I imagine this must be even more of an issue in Chinese culture!  Maybe I should correct people, I know I'd appreciate having my major mistakes corrected so I don't continue to get things wrong!

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I agree with you. Maybe they just felt a bit embarrassed. I do feel frustrated at times but sometimes I just don't care. Depends if I am on a power mood for learning Chinese on the day.

 

I am getting a bit fed up with being constantly asked if I am Malaysian/Singaporean due to my Cantonese style. I learnt most of my Cantonese in HK following native speakers so I just say my colleagues taught me badly! I have been considering doing a couple of italki Cantonese lessons mainly focussing on sentence patterns.

 

Interestingly, one of my friends has said my spoken Cantonese has improved over the past year. I think that's a side effect of learning Mandarin with some shared sentence patterns. 

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I hope you don't mind if I pry a bit, but what levels are you at in Cantonese and Mandarin, and in what order did/are you learning them?  When you talk about your Cantonese style do you mean the way you speak Cantonese, or that you have a Cantonese way of speaking Mandarin?  I was watching a show with a singer from HK the other day, and the Mandarin was even harder to understand than usual because of the heavy Cantonese accent!

 

I have to say I am a bit jealous, I want to learn Cantonese even more than I want to learn Mandarin!  Such an awesome language!

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Cantonese - if it wasn't for the holes in my vocabulary, I would be fluent and totally comfortable with speaking and listening, listening to lectures, news. I learnt Cantonese by kick starting with lessons, recording, taking a textbook to work, asking work colleagues to read out Cantonese during a free moment. I studied a menu so that I can read the local "茶餐厅" food and order. 99% of the learning has been by immersion.

 

Mandarin learning is by Internet and started only a few years back. No chance of immersion and very little exposure to work related use of mandarin. My HK mandarin environment is heavily permeated by Cantonese inflections and tones. Whilst I can pronounce the words fairly decently, I can't switch to Mandarin tones very well at all. I can recognise that I am wrong and then copy the correct tone if heard but it takes me time to do that. I can't do it without hearing some 'proper' mandarin and getting some 'calibration'... I also use Cantonese grammar (which at times is inaccurate)  in my Mandarin. That is because I think in Cantonese - it is recognised as being Chinese by Mandarin speakers rather than 外国人type  Mandarin. 

 

Basically, I am really jealous of you! 

 

Now I am just about to have tea with some people from Hangzhou. Met them three years ago and couldn't communicate. Wondering how I will today. That's how rare I get to use Mandarin on a social basis. 

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3 hours ago, js6426 said:

I was watching a show with a singer from HK the other day,

 

Hacken Lee? LOL 

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How long has it taken to get your Cantonese to that point?

 

No not Hacken Lee, 邓紫棋!I landed on the interview because I had been watching a couple of videos in Cantonese, mainly because I just love to listen to it, even though I understand next to nothing!  I have to say though I am developing a taste for Chinese pop music, as embarrassing as that may be!  I have been told that the songs basically all contain the same words, which doesn't surprise me, but still, it's a collection of words which I have to learn somehow/at some point, so it might as well be while I am enjoying some cheesy music!

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6 hours ago, Flickserve said:

How do you make this work successfully? Like what happens if you run out of things to talk about?

Lol good question! First of all, I go to two different language cafes. The first one is held at my university for us students one hour during lunch time. To make it more convenient for everyone and more appealing for natives, they provide free lunch. By now there's a core group of Chinese learners with the occasional random newcomer coming to check it out. The same for the natives, it's usually the same 4-5 natives (other graduate students at my university) with some new people now and then. We sit around a round table and if I don't have anything to say, I just listen to other people speak. If I feel like talking I will either contribute to the general conversation or start a new thread with the native sitting next to me.

 

The second one is open for everyone and is held on the weekends. I found it on Meetup. It's completely volunteer based and the guy who organises it just picked a cafe and a time (2.5 hours in the afternoon) and they've been running with it for some years now. I'm not always able to attend since it's on the weekend, but when I do attend I often recognize at least one or two of the natives there, but oftentimes none of the other learners. My first time there was like 1 or 2 natives and 8 learners haha, and then another time there was 7 natives and 2 learners so the natives were just chatting and getting to know each other. Usually though there's a good mix, and it's interesting hearing the life stories of the natives since they are quite a diverse group. 

 

So yeah, I've never run out of things to talk about. There might be an awkward pause here and there, or I might feel tired, but I can always just bring up something I watched or read earlier in the week, or something that happened to me in China.

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2 hours ago, js6426 said:

How long has it taken to get your Cantonese to that point?

 

It is twenty years now :-) Imagine what I would have been if I was motivated to keep up learning during the in between years. After my first 9 months I dropped active language because of professional exams.

 

2 hours ago, js6426 said:

邓紫棋!I landed on the interview because I had been watching a couple of videos in Cantonese, mainly because I just love to listen to it, even though I understand next to nothing!  I have to say though I am developing a taste for Chinese pop music,

 

She is a good singer. I saw her concert and had VIP tickets which cost a lot,  a lot, definitely a lot...  . My photos are attached below. Her accent is Southern Chinese but I certainly wouldn't have said it is strong HK style Mandarin.

 

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That's awesome!  Yeah I think she is a fantastic singer, so cool that you had VIP tickets!  Hah, shows how much I know about accents!  I just assumed that because she was from HK and sounded so different to what I am used to hearing, it must have been a HK accent!

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10 hours ago, js6426 said:

I often find myself wishing that people would correct me when I say something wrong, but then I imagine if the shoe was on the other foot - I have spoken to many people who are learning English and I don't correct them if they make mistakes, probably because I understand what they are saying, and don't want to offend them.

Yeah, people who correct you in the moment are rare, most people (from any culture) just skip over mistakes if they get the message, in order not to embarrass the speaker, but also to keep the conversation going. You can try listening for people who repeat your point/question before replying, often the repeat is a subtle correction.

 

I don't correct people either, except when they're my language partner (and even then I often just try to keep them talking - hm, perhaps I should correct them more). I do often repeat-correct people though.

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